Tunnel Hill Marathon Race Report – Jacqueline Sommer

Race: Tunnel Hill Marathon

Runner: Jacqueline Sommer

Race Date: 11/14/2021

Location: Vienna, IL

Results: 3:34:54/3rd Overall Female

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/6257940927

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. This race is quiet and low-key!
  2. The scenery is unbeatable with the fall colors, rock formations, bridges, and the infamous 543 foot tunnel.
  3. It’s part of an entire weekend of ultra-running events including legendary guest speakers, pasta dinner, camping, 100 and 50 mile distance options on Saturday, and the best volunteers and aid stations ever.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Since the marathon starts at 7:00am the day after the 100 and 50 miler begin, the trail is pretty lonely! I went miles without seeing anyone!!

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Running through a 543 foot long tunnel is weird!! As you get about halfway through the tunnel you lose all perception of where you are… and might even bump into the wall a time or two (or maybe that was just me!?)

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I was actually registered for the Tunnel Hill 100 which took place the day before the marathon. Due to a scheduling conflict (kiddo’s first ever gymnastics meet!!) race director, Steve Durbin, allowed me to transfer in to the marathon. With no “marathon training” under my belt (only ultra training), I had pretty realistic expectations and planned on just running for fun. The weather started out perfect- low 40s and dry- but in less than an hour turned into cold rain and gusty winds. I was proud of how I dealt with the unexpected conditions and managed to come in 3rd overall for females and earned prize money! I also got to meet Camille Herron at the finish line!!

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Arrive early if you want to watch sub 24 hour 100 milers cross the finish line. Or arrive right before the start because parking is right there and there’s no corrals to line up in. Makes for a very stress-free race morning! During the race, make sure you carry your own water/nutrition. There are only a few aid stations along the course and all are cup free!

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Here’s a surprising one – don’t go out to fast!!! The first half has a gradual incline.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

The trail is crushed limestone so gaiters are used by many to keep the rocks out of your socks. This course is called “flat and fast” but be aware that the first 9 miles are a gradual incline.. but on the flip side your return is a slight downhill!

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

The course is beautiful! It is held in mid-November so the trees are still full of colorful leaves! There are enough slight curves in the trail where you don’t feel like you are running in a straight line out and back.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

This course is unique because it can be considered road or trail. For a trail, it is flat! There are no roots or big rocks to worry about.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Tunnel Hill is directed by Steve Durbin with Durbin Race Management so you know you are getting nothing but the best! It is incredibly organized and well run. You can always find Steve at the finish line personally greeting every runner that crosses the finish line. And the awards are handed to you on the spot!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

This is only the second year for the marathon so in comparison to the 100/50 the field is quite small. There were a total of 60 runners in 2021.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

All races typically sell out – but not overnight! You can usually secure a spot if you register early on ultrasignup!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

I cannot personally attest to any of the aid stations along the course. I carried my own water and gels and just enjoyed all their cheering as I went by them during the race. Since the race is out and back, you do run by each twice. There were 2 (you run by them 4 time total) that were manned and there was one (you run by it twice) that was self serve water.

Weather and typical race conditions

Expect any time of weather during Tunnel Hill weekend! It can get quite cold overnight and rain is not uncommon. It was 40 and dry when we started, then we had cold rain and gusty winds for a few hours, and then the sun finally came out at the end. I joked that we ran through three seasons that morning!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

You will definitely need a vest or a hand held bottle since the race is cup free. It also isn’t a bad idea to carry a small flashlight to help you navigate through the tunnel. They even give you one in your race packet!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

This course is very spectator friendly! It begins with a mile out and back so spectators can see you only two miles into the race. There is also a trailhead where they can see you right after the tunnel at roughly mile 12 and again at mile 17. My boys were also able to see me around mile 24 and still be back to the finish in time!! The race is held in Vienna Park which has plenty of green space and playgrounds for camping and hanging out while you wait on your runner.

How’s the Swag?

SWAG was an amazing long sleeve t-shirt hoodie, hat, and flashlight. All marathon runners received a medal and overall winners received a railroad spike and prize money!

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 Stars – hands down! Absolutely recommend this race to anyone!

Jacqueline Sommer is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Jacqueline, check out her coaching page.